Call for Maldives boycott

March 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Government, News

BANGKOK, 25 March 2013: ETN Publisher and Pacific Asia Travel Association  board member, Juergen Thomas Steinmetz, has thrown his support behind the Avaaz and Amnesty International campaigns to boycott the Maldives’ tourism industry.

He announced, Monday, that his publication, ETurboNews will not accept advertising or press releases from any Maldives government agency until the government ends human rights abuses against women.

ETN’s Online news called for tourism industry support for an outright boycott of Maldives’ tourism calling on the country’s leaders to end the practice of flogging as a form of punishment and amend laws to remove the provisions that allow flogging, as well as those that criminalise “fornication.”

The Avaaz call for pressure on the tourism industry follows calls for a Chinese tourism boycott of the Maldives that exploded across Chinese social media networks earlier in March.

Dismissed Chinese employees of the Beach House Iruveli Resort – formerly Waldorf Astoria – posted allegations on the Chinese forum Tianya that guests from the country were receiving inferior treatment to Europeans, despite paying the same prices.

In the ETN report, Mr Steinmetz expressed anger over the country’s human rights abuses: “I am outraged on hearing that a 15-year-old girl, who has survived rape by her stepfather and a resultant pregnancy, has now been found guilty of “fornication” and sentenced to flogging and house arrest.

“I am an active member of the UNWTO World Tourism Network on Child Protection, and as a world citizen, I cannot be silenced about this. No civilised country should get away with such a nightmare system of justice.”

I call for the release of the girl immediately and unconditionally, and ensure that she is not flogged or otherwise punished. Survivors of rape or other forms of sexual abuse need counselling and support – not prosecution.

The 15-year-old girl must be provided with adequate and appropriate protective and support services.

The publisher added: “The Maldives is one of the most beautiful countries I visited, but how can we support a destination with a such horror in paradise.

“I fully support Avaaz and Amnesty International in their effort. I urge eTN readers to sign the Avaaz campaign.”

See http://www.avaaz.org/en/maldives_global/?cuOQseb

Avaaz states on their website: “It’s hard to believe, but a 15-year-old rape survivor has been sentenced to be whipped 100 times by a court in the Maldives! Let’s put an end to this lunacy by hitting the government where it hurts: their tourism industry.

“Tourism is the big earner for the Maldives elite, including government ministers. With a million-strong petition to President Waheed, we’ll threaten the islands’ reputation through hard-hitting ads in travel magazines and online until he abolishes this outrageous law,” the site declares.

“The girl’s stepfather raped her for years and then murdered the baby she bore. Now the court is punishing her for “sex outside marriage.” President Waheed of the Maldives is already feeling global pressure on this, but we can force him to help save this girl and change the law to spare other victims this fate. This is how we’re winning the War on Women – by supporting women’s rights every time an outrage like this happens,” it stated.

Former Secretary General of the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI), Mohamed Ibrahim “Sim,” told The Maldives Minivan News that he doubted a tourism boycott would “change the government’s position on religious issues.”

“The religious faction [in the government] is stronger than ever before. It will not affect government policy in any way – it will just attract negative publicity,” he said.

Sim observed “[Tourists] have no idea what is going on in the real Maldives, and they probably don’t want to know,” he said. “They come here for a relaxing, stress-free holiday.”

He noted that while public sentiment tended to focus on reconciling tourism with the haraam (prohibited under Islam) supply of alcohol, “in Islam it is also a sin to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage.”

Resorts, he noted, were not yet asking guests to provide marriage certificates.

President’s Office Spokesperson, Masood Imad, expressed hope that punishments such as flogging would be debated.

“I’m sure when we debate [punishing suspects for fornication with lashes], we will find an acceptable solution for all parties,” he said.

The Maldives Constitution does not allow any law that contradicts the tenets of Islam, with the criminal charge of fornication outlined under Islamic Sharia.

However, Masood noted that the Maldives had a tradition of turning away from practices such as the death sentence and forms of corporal punishment.

According to Masood, punishments such as removing the hand of a suspect in the case of theft had not been used since the 1960s.

He maintained that there was a history of reviewing the country’s relationship with Sharia law in the past and that a similar process could be had with the debate about flogging.

However, Masood said that all authorities involved in proposed legal reforms would have to tread “a very fine line” in order to tackle long-standing “traditions” and beliefs in the country.

“Reforms must be undertaken, but this must be done gradually considering we are dealing with a process embedded in society,” he said. “A certain amount of compromise may be needed.”

Masood said the state was committed to preventing the minor from facing her sentence, while also looking at the potential for reversing the use of flogging as a traditional punishment.

“The little girl will not be flogged for another two years, so we must look at what can be done [in the meantime],” he said.

The 15-year-old from the island of Feydhoo in Shaviyani Atoll appeared in the Juvenile Court on 26 February and was convicted for premarital sex, and sentenced to 100 lashes and eight months of house arrest.

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